More fetching than mini cupcakes and more than a little healthier.
You’ve heard of designer dogs. These are designer vegetables. Prettier, smaller varieties (like fairytale eggplant) are part of a new generation of hybrids, a cross between two parent plants that farmers have bred with enhanced characteristics, such as brightness of color and flavor, nutrition and environmental resilience, according to Keely Gerhold, co-founder of Tinyfield Rooftop Farm in New York City. Some are of these veg you’ll see in nicer grocery stores; others you’ll have to look for at the farmers’ market or on menus at restaurants that respect produce. Here, some of our favorites:
Patty Pan Squash
A great source of vitamins A and C, and folic acid, these scalloped hand-sized saucers are more delicate than their larger brethren, rendering peeling unnecessary. Simply toss with some extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast until fork-tender (you’ll be rewarded with a naturally buttery side dish).
These cute-as-a-button nightshades contain fiber, vitamins and nasunin, a potent antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals. Found in the skin of the eggplant, nasunin gives them their dark purple color. You’ll probably notice that smaller eggplants are even more flavorful than larger ones, too. Drizzle halved eggplants with a little olive oil, season with Middle Eastern spices and roast on a grill or grill pan until slightly charred.
Baby Candy Cane Beets
Chiogga beets (a.k.a. candy cane beets) aren't as potent as larger, deep red beets and not as tough, either, so enjoy them raw. Plus, beet greens are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, potassium and magnesium. If they’re a little bitter for your tastes, try blanching them, or use them in this baby candy cane beets and almond pesto pilaf recipe from Jenné Claiborne, contributing chef at by CHLOE in New York City.
Little Gem Lettuce
The head of little gems is about three inches tall and its flavor profile is akin to butter lettuce. Its lack of exterior leaves means fewer minutes prepping and less waste. Eat fresh or consider grilling (like romaine) with a shaving of Parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.
Similar to the full-sized kinds, petite radishes have a mild, spicy flavor. They contain folate, iron, magnesium, copper, calcium and vitamin C, too. Eat alone with a dab of butter and salt, or dice and add to tacos, guacamole or grain salads.
Husk or ground cherriesThese are technically a fruit, but they have a savory flavor profile so just go with it. They’re so-named because of their tendency to fall to the ground before ripe. They are housed inside a papery husk, much like a tomatillo, and are pleasantly tart. Eat raw or chop and toss with cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice for a type of salsa.